More than a century ago, a young man with an uncanny knowledge of fabric and an entrepreneurial spirit set out to start his own company in Chicago. Hyman Freedman was well known throughout the area as an expert furniture upholsterer. Changing with the times, as is the custom of entrepreneurs, Freedman saw enormous opportunities to apply his expert knowledge in the production of seat cushions for horse-drawn buggies.
Freedman’s artistry didn’t go unnoticed. The 1892 Columbian Exposition in Chicago awarded him a diploma of honorable mention for his upholstering skills. Today, that tradition of excellence continues at Chicago’s Freedman Seating Company, still family-run and -operated, and one of the nation’s largest manufacturers of specialty seating.
Freedman Seating is a manufacturer of seating products for the transportation industry, serving bus, delivery-truck and specialty vehicle manufacturers. Along with the major OEMs, the company’s customers include more than 250 bus distributors, the federal government and many states and municipalities. Its success rests on a foundation of providing value-added seating packages with innovative designs, quality workmanship, superior customer service and timely delivery.
Time on Its Side
On-time delivery is a primary focus at Freedman Seating. “The No. 1 thing our customers can be sure of is on-time delivery of quality seating,” says Dan Cohen, vice president of sales and marketing, and a member of the fourth generation of the Freedman family to be involved in the business. “So the seats they need for manufacturing their vehicles can be installed when they need to be installed on the production line. During the production process, when vehicles hit the seating stage, the seats need to be there. If they aren’t, they have to get installed off line and that means you have a situation of very inefficient production, which is something no manufacturer wants on his line.”
The company’s philosophy of timely deliveries is what drives Freedman Seating’s work force. “We are relentless about on-time delivery. We accomplish this by being quick to enter our orders into our manufacturing and production systems,” Cohen says. “We are also very diligent in our scheduling to ensure that we schedule orders to suit our customers’ requirements.”
Customers developing new products will often bring in Freedman Seating’s engineers early during the design phase. “We can then help our customers achieve the products that meet their needs for their new launches,” says Cohen.
The Express Lane
Cohen notes that manufacturing seating for heavy-duty transit buses promises the most growth. “Dollars spent on public transit are increasing and as that market grows, we plan to grow with it and focus on this new market for us,” he says. “In the past, our focus has been on providing seating to manufacturers of small and midsize buses. This is what we started the company with.”
The small and midsize bus market includes vehicles for airport shuttles and car rental shuttles. That market also includes para-transit vehicles designed for retirement communities, church parishes and the transportation of handicapped people. One of Freedman Seating’s newest products is its integrated child’s seat, which features a built-in seat to safely accommodate a child weighing between 20 and 66 pounds.
Another growth area for Freedman Seating is the school bus market. “We have just developed a high-end activity seat, which is a bit more expensive than seats found in regular school buses,” says Cohen. “It’s a bit more stylish and more comfortable, and it’s used a lot by private schools and in rural school districts where students have to travel long distances to school.”
School bus seats must be designed to meet certain federal guidelines, and they are compartmentalized to accommodate the passengers. These seats are designed to meet energy absorption and other safety characteristics, which is why seat belts are not required, says Cohen.
Driven by the Employees
The work force at Freedman Seating enjoys a very relaxed working environment, where “our open-door policy is demonstrated in the way in which our employees deal effectively with our customers. They are empowered to make decisions so that things can get done quickly, and so that we can accommodate our customers in every way possible,” says Cohen.
Some of the more popular fabrics customers request including “everything from vinyl and midrange woven fabrics to domestic and imported woolen fabrics,” says Cohen, noting that Freedman Seating constantly updates its product lines with new and improved fabrics.
With an international presence, Freedman Seating plans to continue to be the industry leader in the markets it serves by continuing to set the industry standard for customer satisfaction and on-time delivery. Its Chicago facility employs 325 people and occupies 250,000 square feet.